The bed bug (Cimex
lectularius) nearly disappeared in the United States after World
War II. Lately, bed bugs have been found again in homes and
workplaces across the country, including the Washington DC area.
Why? No one knows for sure. Possible reasons are foreign travel,
pesticide resistance, and changes in pesticide use.
Bed bugs usually can be
seen by the human eye. They may resemble an apple seed:
reddish-brown in color, oval, flat, and about a quarter of an inch
long. Younger bed bugs may be lighter in color and smaller in size.
Bed bugs lurk in their
namesake…beds. This can include the cracks and crevices of the
mattress, headboard, bed frame, and box spring. They may also hide
in other upholstered items like furniture, curtains, and rugs.
Bedbugs hide so well that they can even be found behind peeling
wallpaper, light plates and outlets. You may have bed bugs if you
notice spots or smears on fabric. Or, you may see actual eggs or egg
shells. Some people describe a sweet, musty odor.
The good news is that bed
bugs are not known to transmit diseases to humans. Bites may appear
like other insect bites causing red spots and itchiness. Such bites
may lead to skin infections. Some people have an allergic-like
response. Generally bites can be managed at home. Keep the area
clean and dry. Use hydrocortisone or diphenhydramine to treat
The bad news is that bed
bugs are a nuisance. They can be difficult to remove once an
infestation occurs. To prevent an infestation:
Carefully inspect any second-hand items you
bring into your home.
If you travel, inspect the bed and frame
before sleeping in it.
When you get home, immediately remove your
clothes from your suitcase. Wash and dry them right away.
Decrease any clutter in the home that may
be a hiding place for bedbugs.
Reduce areas in and around the home that
shelter or attract birds and bats, as they may also harbor
Plastic casings on pillow and mattresses
may help keep bed bugs out.
If you know or suspect
that you have bed bugs, take these steps:
Vacuum the areas well.
Wash bedding and fabrics in hot water (at
least 120°F); dry them for at least 20 minutes.
Or, use cold treatments (below 0°F for four
days) or heat treatments (over 113°F).
You can buy pesticides to
treat bed bugs yourself. Or, you can contract with a pest control
service to treat your home. If you decide to apply a pesticide, use
Always read the label first.
Do not use a product intended to kill
another type of pest.
If you have children or pets, make sure the
product you are using is safe for them.
Look on the label for the EPA registration
number. This means that the Environmental Protection Agency has
approved the product for sale.
Follow directions exactly.
Wait for the recommended time before going
back into the area.
Never use a product intended for outside
Two EPA guides may help
you treat these annoying pests:
Call the poison center
anytime at 1-800-222-1222 if
you have questions about pesticides.